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McMahon: Black Sox

Recently, I got a serious case of reality whiplash when I was reminded that baseball in America had the Negro leagues actively in existence until 1960. Now, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and prior to that, black baseball players played segregated, apart and very often excellently, from 1920. But Negro leagues existed until 1960 — in my lifetime.

How painfully sad that they had to exist at all. But, as of Thursday, recognition was given to the extraordinary skills of stars like Josh Gibson, cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige as the U.S. Postal Service released a set of stamps commemorating them.

I had always known of the existence of the leagues, but they only became real when I saw an exhibition of photos at a local museum. That’s when the truth manifested itself in the realization that some of America’s greatest athletes were prohibited from playing against all competition because of their race. That’s when I choked up at the injustice that limited excellence in a game that, for decades, was the great American pasttime — for some in America.